Construction begins on world’s largest telescope in Chilean desert
ATACAMA DESERT, Chile, May 27: Construction began in Chile today on the European Extremely Large Telescope, which when completed will be the world’s largest optical telescope, some five times larger than the top observing instruments in use today.
The size of the ELT has the potential to transform our understanding of the universe, say its backers, with its main mirror that will measure some 39 meters (43 yards) across.
Located on a 3,000 meter-high mountain in the middle of the Atacama desert, it is due to begin operating in 2024.
Scientists are a step closer to understanding the inner-workings of the universe following the laying of the first stone, and construction starting on the world’s largest optical and infrared telescope.
With a main mirror 39 metres in diameter, the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), is going to be, as its name suggests, enormous. Unlike any other before it, ELT is also designed to be an adaptive telescope and has the ability to correct atmospheric turbulence, taking telescope engineering to another level.
To mark the construction’s milestone, a ceremony was held at ESO’s Paranal residencia in northern Chile, close to the site of the future giant telescope which will be on top of Cerro Armazones, a 3046-metre peak mountain.
Among many other representatives from industry, the significance of the project was highlighted by the attendance of the Director General of ESO, Tim de Zeeuw, and President of the Republic of Chile, Michelle Bachelet Jeria.
The ELT is being built by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an international collaboration supported by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Oxford University scientists are playing a key role in the project, and are responsible for the design and construction of its spectrograph; ‘HARMONI’, an instrument designed to simultaneously take 4000 images, each in a slightly different colour.
The visible and near-infrared instrument will harness the telescope’s adaptive optics to provide extremely sharp images.
‘HARMONI’ will enable scientists to form a more detailed picture of the formation and evolution of objects in the Universe.
Supporting researchers to view everything from the planets in our own solar system and stars in our own and nearby galaxies with unprecedented depth and precision, to the formation and evolution of distant galaxies that have never been observed before.
Niranjan Thatte, Principal Investigator for ‘HARMONI’ and Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford’s Department of Physics, said: ‘For me, the ELT represents a big leap forward in capability, and that means that we will use it to find many interesting things about the Universe that we have no knowledge of today.
‘It is the element of ‘exploring the unknown’ that most excites me about the ELT. It will be an engineering feat, and its sheer size and light grasp will dwarf all other telescopes that we have built to date.’
A time capsule, created by members of the ESO team and sealed at the event, will serve as a lasting memory of the research and the scale of ambition and commitment behind it. Contents include a copy of a book describing the original scientific aims of the telescope, images of the staff that have and will play a role in its construction and a poster of an ELT visualisation. The cover of the time capsule is engraved with a hexagon made of Zerodur, a one-fifth scale model of one of the ELT’s primary mirror segments.
Tim DE Zeeuw, Director General of ESO, said: ‘The ELT will produce discoveries that we simply cannot imagine today, and it will surely inspire numerous people around the world to think about science, technology and our place in the Universe. This will bring great benefit to the ESO member states, to Chile, and to the rest of the world.’
The ELT is set for completion in 2024, and as the visualisation images show, it is going to be ‘out of this world.’
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet inaugurated the construction of the world’s largest optical and infrared telescope, to be located at the Paranal Observatory in the Antofagasta region.
“Here in the Atacama Desert, one of the most symbolic places of the nation – and the driest place in the world – we are doing more than build a telescope, we are witnessing one of the greatest examples of what science and technology can achieve,” President Bachelet said on Friday.
The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will be built in collaboration with the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the leading intergovernmental astronomic organisation in Germany, Efe news reported.
“Antofagasta has the potential to be one of the scientific centres of Latin America…Chile is a country known for its sizable scientific community and for the importance of its discoveries,” the President said.
The E-ELT on the crest of the Cerro Armazones mountain peak at an altitude of 3,046 metres will have a primary mirror 39 metres wide that will allow astronomers to take on scientific challenges like the discovery of exoplanets similar to Earth, and the observation of the first stars and galaxies in order to explore our origins.
“ESO is another example of what can be achieved through international cooperation,” Bachelet said.
Accompanied by members of her government, Bachelet wrapped up her visit to Antofagasta, where besides witnessing the start of the E-ELT works, she inaugurated the Kelar power plant, the largest built in Chile in the last 10 years.